North Smithfield Food Pantry looking to grow volunteer base

North Smithfield Food Pantry looking to grow volunteer base

North Smithfield Food Pantry volunteers present at last Tuesday’s distribution include, from left, in the front row, Ron Lavoie, treasurer; Deanna Rugo; Darlene Magaw, president; Denise Brandenburg and David Whitefield; in the back row, Mike Kelly; Mike Scalzi and George Briggs, board member. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Sixteen months after a global pandemic forced them to rethink how they interact with the community, the North Smithfield Food Pantry has settled into a routine and is ready to take on new volunteers.

Newly appointed Board of Directors President Darlene Magaw said the organization was unable to accept new volunteers in the early days of the pandemic due to concerns about spreading the virus. At the same time, many of their regular volunteers were unable to attend due to concerns about age and health.

“Our volunteers shrank because there are people like my brother, for example, who decided it was too risky. He’s now vaccinated, and he’s back,” she said.

The pantry is now taking on new volunteers and looking to grow. Magaw said they plan to continue offering their services drive-thru style for the time being, though they may return to allowing clients to “shop” for food from the pantry shelves in the basement of Slatersville Congregational Church in the future.

“The reality is, some of the people who come to our pantry are not necessarily in the best of health and we don’t want to do anything that would be compromising to them,” she said.

The pantry holds four distribution days per month, typically on the last two Tuesdays and Saturdays. Prior to the start of the pandemic, she said, they served about 40 to 45 families. Those numbers initially went up during the pandemic, she said, before dropping down to about 20 this summer. She expects them to rise again in the fall.

While many of the pantry’s regular clients are older individuals on a fixed income, she said, they also serve families who’ve fallen on hard times.

“It’s a welcoming place. No judgment. We know that everyone has difficult times. Some people come to us and it’s only for a short time,” she said.

Magaw, a Burrillville resident who attends Slatersville Congregational Church, recently took over the position of president of the board from the Rev. Eileen Morris, who will retire as pastor at the end of this month. Morris’ late husband, Bob, was instrumental in helping found the food pantry a little more than a decade ago. The pantry was originally located at St. John the Evangelist Church before it found a permanent home on Greene Street.

“It’s actually an honor to follow in Rev. Eileen’s footsteps. I hope I have the energy and faith that she had,” Magaw said.

For many years, Jackie and Joe Puffer, also Burrillville residents, served as volunteer directors of the food pantry. Since their retirement in 2018, Magaw said they’ve been able to fill in responsibilities with different volunteers. She is currently seeking a vice president and secretary for her board and hoping to grow it with more members.

Magaw, who works as director of family support services for Community Care Alliance in Woonsocket, said she’d also like to bring in resources to help connect clients with other services in the community. Many of those experiencing hunger, she said, are also dealing with other issues.

Anyone interested in volunteering can call the food pantry number at 401-678-0356. Becoming a volunteer, she said, is as simple as visiting the pantry to observe what they do and see if it’s a right fit.

“There are some people who come after that brief rough patch and say, ‘I want to volunteer now,’ and that’s always inspiring to me,” she added.